How I Decided on iPhone for PhD Fieldwork

Even before heading out for the fieldwork, I feel I have implanted my virtual self there. This happens through my anxious preparations for proposal presentation, drafting ethics application, submitting forms for travel approval and much more. Have you felt the same?

Apart from all such anxieties, one of the confusions I have been fiddling with is related to the ‘tools’ appropriate for the kind of research I intend to do. As an anthropologist, do I need a camera, an audio recorder and then a mobile phone? Or, can I make do with just one?

You may need all of them depending on what kind of research you undertake. Suppose you are a visual anthropologist, studying how art is used by a particular community, you may need a quality camera if you want to capture the art they create for the purpose of your research. Or, suppose you are an ethnomusicologist, you may need an excellent audio recorder if you are to document the nuances of the musical notes.

I am an anthropologist studying social hierarchy among Muslims in South India and I will need to consult a lot records and documents from the archives and libraries. I will also need to undertake ethnographic fieldwork employing methods of interviews and participant observation. Then, what kind tools should I have.

After much rumination, I zeroed in on buying an iPhone, instead of a camera and an audio recorder. I may need to scan or take photos of at least five hundred pages a day at the archives or libraries and then organise them into manageable files as per my requirements. Since a camera can only give me separate images and that too in high resolution, I would need then to spend lot of time on mechanisms to combine them into pdf files. A phone with a dependable scanning software does the trick for me. I find Scanner Pro as one of the best for the purpose and it costs you around six dollars. The other day, I took a scan of a book running into more than 400 pages and the software gave me a single pdf file. I could also edit each page after scanning the file and upload to google drive and iCloud. That serves me well.

For the recording purposes and taking photos in the field situations, I think iPhone would do the magic. I have been experimenting with the Apple default app Voice Memos for the voice recording and it is not bad. Is there a better app than this one?Have you been using a better app?

iPhone camera is not bad either, for the purpose of my research. I do not think I would use much images in my thesis and if at all I decide to do so, I think iPhone images should be worth the money. While buying an iPhone 8 Plus has burned a hole in my pocket, I hope my comforts of doing the fieldwork would alleviate my present financial worries. As of now, I imagine a fieldworker carrying his/her mobile phone, camera and audio recorder in the bag or in the pockets and trudging along with all the paraphernalia. And with this, I feel half-comforted for the money I have blown on the iPhone.

For my money, I would say that you decide what kind of tools you may need based on the kind of requirements you may have in your field. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. I have made my choice and you make yours.

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